Today’s Opinion: The right to strike

POSTED: 05/27/11 1:50 PM

Anyone who breaks the law runs the risk to end up in prison. That’s a reasonable retaliation for a society with established rules for maintaining law and order. But what does it really mean to lose your freedom for three, four, five, or more years?
According to Ann Gumbs, a legal advisor to Justice Minister Duncan, they close the door behind you and throw the key away. That is, we admit, a very liberal interpretation of a remark she made in a letter to the Pointe Blanche Inmates Association.
After examining a long list of seventeen complaints, the first thought that popped into the advisor’s head was a quotation from the book Prisoners and Human Rights. “He who loses his freedom, loses immediately all the other rights that is inseparable with them.”
That’s a daring proposition from someone who is supposed to advise the Justice Minister. She even went one step further by declaring that, “We at the Ministry of Justice recognize all human rights of a detainee.”
That is where this sentence should have stopped but – we assume to the astonishment of the Inmates Association – it did not. Gumbs added a condition to those rights. They are endorsed and recognized “as far as the budget, means and possibilities go and within reason.”
If we understand this remark correctly, the advisor is of the opinion that human rights go down the drain when the money runs out. Inmates are not able to call upon these rights if the Justice Ministry does not have the means or the possibilities. And they do not apply when these rights are not “within reason.”
Wow. There is one upside to this statement. It does not, as Gumbs was careful enough to put in the first paragraph of her letter, “constitute an opinion, commitment, promise or representation of the Minister of Justice.”
Any inmate worth his salt would not be comforted by that escape hatch, because Gums is, after all, a legal advisor to the Justice Minister. They will probably figure that she blows stuff in Duncan’s ears that he might listen to.
It’s a small wonder that not all hell broke loose at the prison after this letter went out on May 5 (Liberation Day in the Netherlands).
The inmates took the letter in stride, and they organized a peaceful strike on Friday the thirteenth – is there a sense of black humor there?
Chief Prosecutor mr. Hans Mos went to the prison ahead of the strike as a peacemaker, and given the fact that there was no riot, that mission appears to have had some sort of effect.
But for the prison management all this was apparently not good enough. The Inmates Association’s attorney mr. Shaira Bommel reported yesterday that director Rudsel Ricardo intends to punish the inmates for their strike by taking their monthly family visit away.
Come on guys, really? Everybody knows that the conditions at the prison are not good and that that the inmates have been complaining about this for years. One of them found an ideal solution: he escaped. The other inmates staged a peaceful strike.
Do they not, like everybody else, have the right to go on strike after they have exhausted all other options?
Well, according to legal advisor Ann Gumbs they don’t, because inmates lose all their rights when they lose their freedom.
The inmates know better, and so do we.

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